Cat Stevens “Father and Son” (1970)

Fishman-Cat-Stevens

When my son, Max, was in college at Vassar, he had his own radio show, “Band Geeks,” on WVKR,¹ the college radio station beaming out a 3,700 watt signal to campus, to greater Poughkeepsie, NY, and through the magic of the internet, to anyplace else. I was a faithful listener. As with most college radio, the format was wide open, and Max gleefully found the extreme alternative to alternative-rock. Occasionally it was even tolerable.

For Max’s final show his senior year, he allowed a guest co-host: me. Armed with a severely limited knowledge of the listening tastes of 18-21 year-olds at a small, bohemian liberal arts college, I mapped out a host of what I hoped would be solid song choices for the show, and thoughtfully considered and rehearsed my descriptions. I remember practically none of them. I do, though, well remember just this one, the one I chose to finish with, this classic by Yusuf Islam, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens. I couldn’t hold it together when I introduced it on the air that night – not even close – and listening again today I had pretty much the same reaction. It’s been described as a song that “frames a heartbreaking exchange between a father not understanding a son’s desire to break away and shape a new life, and the son who cannot really explain himself but knows that it is time for him to seek his own destiny.” I would say that Max and I really share none of those issues. Yet somehow that makes listening to it no less heart-rending. Maybe it’s the remarkable way Stevens emotes the two characters in two different voices (a deeper register for the father’s lines, a higher one for those of the son), but I believe that any father, and probably any son, can relate somewhat or something to it. Regardless, it made me cry then, now, and pretty much every other time I’ve ever heard it.

Here’s wishing to all fathers and sons (as well as daughters²), a happy Father’s Day.

¹W Vassar Kollege (sic) Radio

²for the record, my daughter, Mary, also hosted her own radio show, “Peanut Butter & Jams” at Colby College


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